Book Marks: 98 Wounds, The Retribution, Fit to Serve, Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader
Reviews - 98 Wounds, The Retribution, Fit to Serve, Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader
98 Wounds, by Justin Chin. Manic D Press, 122 pages, $14.95 paper.
Fierce. Funny. Filthy. Chin’s fiction debut – after memoirs, poetry collections and performance scripts, six books in all – is a mesmerizing mashup, in 11 interconnected stories, of sex and excess, drug highs and emotional lows, heartache and hilarity. All in maybe 40,000 words, a marvel of compression, a short novel packed with wit, defiance and desperation. On the surface, Chin is a jokester, his narrator dropping flawless gems of absurdist imagery. Like: Being clawed to death by pandas could be the cutest death ever. And: Cum has the consistency of “the unnamed white stuff that you might find on tables in vegetarian restaurants.” But, beneath the humor, beyond the irony, Chin’s narrator is a man baffled by love, striving for connection, learning how to evade demons and to appreciate, oh, two-ply toilet paper, the nature of cats and “time of my own.” At his most depraved, the narrator exults in excreta – “Snow” may be too much for readers with over-refined sensibilities. At his most elegiac, he transforms a monstrous world into something lustrous and vulnerable.
The Retribution, by Val McDermid. Atlantic Monthly Press, 416 pages, $25 hardcover.
Serial killers don’t get any nastier than sociopath Jacko Vance, “killer of 17 teenage girls…and once voted the sexiest man in British TV.” He committed his crimes in McDermid’s 1997 novel The Wire in the Blood, where clinical psychologist Tony Hill and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan hunted him down. Twelve years later he has escaped from prison, ready to wreak sadistic havoc on the people who put him away –including his ex-wife, now in a loving relationship with a woman. Vance, whose ruthless venality knows no bounds, is on a killing spree that for most of this chilling thriller confounds Hill and Jordan. At the same time, Jordan is investigating the deaths of several prostitutes, even as a cost-cutting superior sets out to dismantle her special squad, the Major Incident Team, and as her fragile relationship with Hill – both personal and professional – begins to unravel. McDermid juggles these several plotlines with cold-blooded, relentless brilliance in this seventh novel featuring the investigative duo (and her twenty-fifth novel in 25 years).
Fit to Serve: Reflections on a Secret Life, Private Struggle, and Public Battle to Become the First Openly Gay U.S. Ambassador, by Ambassador James C. Hormel and Erin Martin. Skyhorse Publishing, 288 pages, $24.95 hardcover.
The title almost says it all: Hormel’s memoir is indeed about closeted life, ending a marriage and a seven-year battle with Republican homophobes on the way to representing the United States in the tiny nation of Luxembourg. But there’s much more to the man from SPAM (the lunch meat that made the Hormel clan wealthy, always capitalized in the book). After coming out, the father of five (he remained close to his ex-wife and kids) plunged into 1970s antiwar activism and the push for gay rights. It’s a passionate, activist side to the man’s life that most readers might not know about, overshadowed as it has been by his philanthropic endeavors. These include the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library, an affiliation with which his opponents pilloried him when his diplomatic appointment was announced by President Clinton, accusing him of perversion on the basis of images culled from the library’s collection. Now nearing 80, Hormel caps a spirited, affecting life story with an account of how he came to love a man who is more than 50 years younger.
Deviations: A Gayle Rubin Reader, by Gayle S. Rubin. Duke University Press, 480 pages, $27.95 paper.
Over almost four decades, pioneering theorist and activist Rubin has challenged feminist orthodoxy, laid new foundations for critical thinking about gender and sexuality, and galvanized the early years of an emerging academic discipline, queer theory. This reader collects several of her seminal essays, including 1975’s “The Traffic in Women,” broadly about the sexual and economic subordination of women, and 1984’s “Thinking Sex,” an exploration of how some sexual behaviors are seen as natural and others are considered unnatural, with added value to the reprints – Rubin includes fresh “afterthoughts” and “reflections” following both pieces. Much of the writing is seriously scholarly, but Rubin opens with a sprightly introduction that mixes the personal with the professorial. And she doesn’t shy away from settling feminist-war scores – in “Blood Under the Bridge,” published in 2010, she focuses on the infamous Barnard Sex Conference of 1982, where strident anti-pornography activists protested Rubin’s presence, based on distortions of her writing about S/M, butch/femme relationships and porn. This reader is an exemplary introduction, for younger queers, to an influential and accessible intellect.
AIDS Drugs That Sound Like Hipster Baby Names: Isentress; Sustiva; Truvada; Kaletra; Prezista; Reyataz; Selzentry; Lexiva; Ziagen; Zerit; Entriva.
“Don’t mind her, Kaletra is very mature for her age, aren’t you sweetie?” “Isentress and Prezista have been raving non-stop about theatre camp.” “QiGong classes have really helped Lexiva and Ziagen to balance out their ADHD.”
- from 98 Wounds, by Justin Chin
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: After her award-winning contemporary novel The Room, Emma Donoghue returns to her historical (and lesbian) roots with Astray, a sequence of stories about travel from the 17th century to the 20th, coming from Little, Brown in September 2012; she’s now at work on a novel about murder in San Francisco, set in 1876… THE FOCUS IS ON gay families in Miriam Schiffer’s picture book Stella Brings the Family, a debut about a little girl who has to figure out what to do about her two gay dads when her school decides to have a Mother’s Day celebration and each kid gets to invite just one special guest, coming next year from Chronicle Children’s… JUSTIN LEE, FOUNDER of the Gay Christian Network, has sold Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christian Debate his first-person account of how the modern church is missing the mark when it comes to queers, to Jericho Books, a new imprint of the Hachette Book Group, with a publication date yet to be set; Lee combines an evangelical passion for Scripture with an analysis of how families and churches are torn apart by the culture war over homosexuality… FELICE PICANO’S new novel, Wonder City of the West, set in Los Angeles in 1935, is coming soon from Modernist Press.
Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-’70s. He can be reached in care of this publication, or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.